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My school reports lie in an old folder but the sarcasm and bons mots of my form mistresses pierce as fiercely today as they did then

In these last few days in the run-up to that still untrammelled, innocent New Year, it's almost as if we hold our breath, willing ourselves to end the year unscathed.

And our thoughts loop back on the past 12 months to make some sense of what we'll take forward and what we'll leave behind.

Pondering the year almost behind me I see it as an end-of-term report; a series of separate subjects written in the black, spiky script of an irate nun.

My school reports lie yellowed and wafer thin in an old folder but the sarcasm and bons mots of the various form mistresses pierce as fiercely today as they did then.

"Fidelma is extremely careless and far too happy about it," wrote the geography teacher.

"Were she to amuse me as much as she does the rest of the form, her marks would undoubtedly be higher."

Cooking was no better: "Frankly, I see little point in allowing Fidelma to continue with domestic science. She has proved this term the old adage of 'you can lead a horse to water…'"

In needlework Mother Joanna wrote: "Fidelma has at last completed the blouse she began three years ago. Naturally it no longer fits and is too filthy to be displayed as are her abysmal attempts at knitting."

Maths: "Fidelma will not be taking her GCE. She has the distinction of achieving in her mock the lowest ever mark the school has seen. Eleven per cent.

"The percentage points were given for writing her name and correctly answering two questions. With no attempt made to show the rationale of her answers, I can only assume they were lucky guesses."

At least in English, language and literature, there was room for hope. "(Her) recitation of The Lady of Shallot was memorable in many ways, in particular her use of the desks and curtains in the three paces of leaving the loom."

Or, my favourite of all: "She tells me she will be a journalist. I fear she has all the attributes required for the trade."

Thankfully Mother Margaret Mary did not list what she believed those were so I chose to take it as a compliment of the highest order.

Languages, too, held promise. "Her accent (French) is practically flawless. However, that and her supreme confidence cannot overcome the fact that what she says has little recognisable meaning."

All these years on it is almost frightening to see how clearly these wise women scrutinised my unfolding character, manifest in both results and behaviour, and laid out the blueprint for my future if I had but seen it.

They sit on my shoulder now as I reflect on this last year in France, no doubt grateful, as am I, that Portia and I both made it through without breaking or damaging a limb.

I see the thinning of the lips though at yet another year wasted staring at ceilings and blue skies muttering "should I go, or should I stay?"

They would write as one did: "(She) has enormous potential but gives in far too easily to boredom and idleness and is easily distracted."

I hear the collective exasperated sighs as I occasionally remember how fortunate I am to live surrounded by natural beauty in a house owned outright.

How so many would grab what I have and give thanks daily for the gift and not waste the time left in endless introspection.

My old hockey mistress, who hoiked up the voluminous skirt of her habit to demonstrate better a fiendish left wing dribble, would love to grab my flabby arm and fling me into the fields.

"Run," she'd say, "Walk if you can't run. Look around you, see God's bounty and stop abusing your body crouched over a machine while chain smoking.

"And cut down on the wine too…"

My History mistress is hissing in my ear: "Good God girl, you're in France. Go see it. Feel it. Live it. Drive; walk through all those towns and cities.

"I taught you the names, the dates, the impact on the world France had. I taught you to love and respect it.

"I taught you its past and importance and now you've shrunk into a tiny, beyond provincial hamlet. I despair."

At last, sweet, dotty Mother Angela - she loved us all, regardless -whispers: 'Well, I think you've tried really hard this year. You weren't a domesticated child. I always knew you'd never be practical or capable, but at least you've stuck it out.

"This year you've been able to look at the stars at midnight, all by yourself. You've even cooked a few times. Clever girl. And you've finally got that fringe cut and not been overdrawn once. Imagine that? How wonderful.

"Plus, you're legal now and paying ludicrous amounts of money to the French government but you feel better, don't you? Well done."

Thank you Mother Angela, but somehow it's still Maggie May's last report I have to live up to next year: "Fidelma has talent and passion, but she needs to channel both if she is ever to overcome her natural slide into lassitude."

Hopefully, next year. Bonne annee.

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